This article focuses on gear, not technique. You can devote many years to trying to learn Jimi’s style and play like him, but this is more about getting a guitar rig that will get you close to recreating the Jimi Hendrix tone at various times in his career.
In short, this is about capturing a tone similar to Jimi Hendrix. It’s not about playing like him.
Also, note that this is a basic list of gear that will get you close to 80% of Jimi’s tone. He was well known for trying many different techniques and gear throughout his brief career. This list covers the gear you will need to get something close to 80% of his tone. It covers the core of his sound but not every flourish, so to speak. Basically, this is not an exhaustive list for gear collectors and Hendrix aficionados. This is a list of inexpensive gear to use if you want to capture tones close to what Hendrix is most known for.
Now that the preliminary disclaimers have been dispatched, on with the list…
First up on the list is Jimi’s choice of guitar. While Hendrix is known to have played a Gibson Flying V on occasion, he is most known for playing a Fender Stratocaster.
“1969 Fender Stratocaster, original pick-ups, maple neck, strung upside down for a left-handed … genius, Jimi Hendrix.”
If you want your tone to sound like Jimi, it’s essential to use a strat. As mentioned above, Jimi did play other guitars at times, but he’s so well known for playing a Stratocaster that it’s downright iconic. And the fact that Jimi played a right-handed strat that he strung upside down is so legendary it’s become a cliche (as evidenced by the quote above)
Next up on the list is Jimi’s choice of amplifiers. He’s most known for two: The Marshall stack, and the Fender Bassman. Either one of these will set you back thousands of dollars if you go for the authentic. Lucky for you, modern technology makes it possible to achieve fairly accurate Hendrix like tone at a fraction of the price (and volume).
The best choice here is all tube, and for the budget conscious buyer that means the Marshall DSL15C DSL Series 15-Watt Guitar Combo Amp. It’s 15 watts of Marshall crunch and searing lead tone at just under $600.
That covers Jimi’s high-decibel, hard rock sound from such classics as Purple Haze, Foxy Lady and most of his early and mid-sixty’s sound. For his softer, more blues based side (think Electric Ladyland, especially “Voodoo Chile”) you’ll want the Fender Bassman tone, but that’ll set you back a bit more.
So, if you’re like me you’ll want something not too expensive and versatile. One of the most inexpensive and versatile amps on the market today is the Fender Mustang series. I recommend the Fender Mustang II V2 40-Watt 1×12-Inch Combo Electric Guitar Amplifier as the budget friendly option with enough bang for playing solo or small gigs. The Fender Mustang amp is a modeling amp, so it uses onboard software to model various other amplifier models and cabinets and does so convincingly. Just dial up a Marshal Plexi or Fender Bassman and voila!
The next piece of the Hendrix tone puzzle is the effects chain.
Jimi’s favored effects pedal were Fuzz and Wah, and later some Chorus/Vibe.
If you’re shooting for the authentic Hendrix Fuzz tone, you’ll want to check out the Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face Distortion. If you want a good approximation for a few bucks less, check out the Dunlop FFM1 Silicon Fuzz Face Mini Distortion.
Jimi’s favored Wah pedal was the Vox Wah V847A, which is still available today.
Another favored sound of Hendrix in his later career was the Octave Fuzz (think “One Rainy Wish” from Axis: Bold as Love). A good choice today is the Electro-Harmonix Octavix Octave Fuzz Pedal.
Lastly, if you’re searching for the Hendrix “Star Spangled Banner” from Woodstock or “Machine Gun” from Band of Gypsys you’ll want to
use a Univibe pedal. The best bang for your buck here is the Dunlop M68 Uni-Vibe Chorus/Vibrato.
Here are a few bonus pro tips for nailing the Hendrix tone.
Jimi preferred light strings, and according to Eddie Kramer, sometimes even banjo strings. This will definitely help you with bending notes. The great thing about strings is that they are probably the cheapest change you can make. Two great choices are Electro-Harmonix NIC9 Nickel Wound Ultra Light Electric Guitar Strings and D’Addario EXL120 Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings, Super Light, 9-42.
Jimi preferred coiled guitar cables. Why is this worth mentioning? Because coiled cables in Jimi’s day had a bigger effect on tone than cables today. Coiled cables in the 60’s remove a lot of the higher frequencies which reduces the brightness you hear. This is especially important with single coil pickups, as are found in Stratocasters – Jimi’s cable choice likely mellowed the tone of his strat in ways modern cables do not.
I said this post wasn’t about how to play like Hendrix, but here are some super-simple tips that are easy to implement and best of all – free!
Tune half-step down.
Hendrix tuned his guitar a half a step down (Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb). If you don’t follow suit, you won’t sound quite right for the Hendrix tone.
Use the middle or neck pickups as Jimi rarely used the bridge pick up.
Also, he favored rolling back the volume knob on the guitar for to get a “clean” tone, as opposed to a foot switch or channel swap…
This is all done with modern, inexpensive off the shelf gear so what you’ll get is a close approximation… not magic bullet solution…
e n j o y!